The psychology of the gifted adult



For psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, when an individual presents a difference (whatever it may be) compared to the ordinary mortals (in this case, 2.2% of the population against… the others), there is very often a moral suffering,in any case a risk, even if the giftedness is not seen as a disorder as such.

From childhood, the gifted little one will feel different from others.

He/she understands more, and faster.

This will create two sources of suffering from the outset: he or she does not understand why others understand less, and others will not understand why he or she understands better, learns faster, and not them.

The gifted child will find that others "are stupid", feel superior, but above all different, and will begin to seek the company of older children, and adults. The other children, not gifted, will for some be jealous, of his good grades, of the special attention of the teachers he benefits from, and for others (or the same ones) feel inferior, and lose self-esteem.

This feeling of difference and possible attitudes of rejection on the part of his schoolmates can lead them to isolate themselves or be isolated by others,create a feeling ofabnormality, loneliness,which will lead in some to depressions,psychological disorders (bulimia or anorexia, anxiety, sleep disorders), refusal to go to school

The gifted child is also recognizable by the fact that he is interested in specific subjects, such as the origin of man, the universe, prehistory, history (especially antiquity), society, science.

He often distinguishes himself from other children by leaving the field of play early for that of learning and knowledge. He frequently finds himself alone in the playground, immersed in a book… The others find it "strange", too "clever", and alternate between admiration and jealousy, which means that the gifted child no longer really knows who he is, nor what he is worth in the eyes of others…

These problems are only rarely seen by the education system, since the child is "good at school", has good grades and seems to be fine. This is rarely the case in reality, but most will not necessarily show clear and visible signs of suffering. 

The french educational institution took this problem into consideration only dates back to 2002, with the Delaubier report:"The schooling of intellectually precocious children".

This marginalizing during childhood, especially in a family where the child is also seen as "weird", will pose a problem in adolescence,an age during which friendships, learning social codes are very important.

Some gifted teens will lack experience (in addition to being outsized) and will have a lot of difficulty integrating into most groups. With a little luck, they will regroup "among themselves", creating the now famous groups of "nerds" and their technological descendants, the "geeks", popularized by American series dedicated to teenagers.

I thank me very much for highlighting the intelligent teenagers, who are different but equally gifted with sensitivity and kindness. But also their marginalized and the mistreatment they often endure until the end of high school!

These periods of middle school and high school are conducive to the birth of disorders such as drug use, alcoholism, depression, social phobia… And low self-esteem, even with very satisfactory academic results – which is not always the case.

The zebra may even deliberately fail to bring itself up to the level of others in terms of grades, not having a year(s) in advance, and succeeding in making friends. Rejection at this age will have strong consequences on his future social life if he cannot manage his difference and learn to communicate and be appreciated by "normal" people (i.e., in the norm).

Giftedness manifests itself in many psychological aspects

Far beyond the level of IQ, gifted adults share many characteristics of psychology, personality and behavior. If someone around you looks like this portrait, be careful, you may be in the presence of this wild animal… all kind and all fragile. But not easy to tame!

Zebras are very curious, have a great thirst for learning, a great capacity for attention, ask a lot of questions about all types of topics.They often learn to read early, sometimes without outside help, and use a sustained language at an early age that they will develop even more during their own education. They are able to acquire knowledge on their own, studying at their own pace (fast!) : they may even prefer to study alone than in the context of university. Or will follow several courses at the same time.

They are perfectionists, and have a deep need to do well, with accuracy.

The "means" is not in their habits or their vision of the world. The negative side is that they can hardly stand the failure… especially since they are not allowed to fail, given their "capabilities".

They can also be obsessed with one or more subjects: dinosaurs, astronomy, submarines or exotic birds, whatever; they will read everything on the subject and become experts in a very short time. They don't get tired if they're passionate about the subject… because they have a huge capacity for work.

Another feature of "zebras" is tree thinking. As the name suggests, instead of a linear thought focused on a specific subject, his ideas decline into a multitude of other ideas from a common point between them. It is a mode of reflection conducive to creation, but which quickly saturates its reflection, and which can be difficult to follow!

fragile gifted adult

The fragilities of zebras are numerous. Some of them part of the very definition of giftedness, others are born as a result of the suffering of life, such as loneliness in the face of rejection or misunderstanding of others.

Gifted adults are particularly hypersensitive,even if it is often invisible on the outside; they can be described as cold and seemingly distant.

It's actually to protect yourself… They also have little self-esteem, especially because of the difficulties encountered, and fear of their emotions, to be overwhelmed… by their hypersensitivity.

They have difficulty taking the blows, and tend to somatize, that is to say to be physically sick because of worries or mental conflicts.

They are more hurt than "normal" people by the same events… especially because they have a deeper awareness of it.

In addition, it is quite difficult for them to make decisions if they are faced with a problem that cannot be solved by logic alone, such as a sentimental or emotional problem. And they often lack experience in this field, due to a lack of interaction with others, to learn basics about human relationships, and to be able to take a step back from the experiences of others.

Their hypersensitivity also results in a difficulty in withstanding, for example, sounds too loud, crowds, heavy heat, humidity, certain materials on the skin, strong smells … It is therefore both emotional and sensory.

They have a great ability to "read" others, to see beyond the "social masks",thanks to both their intelligence, their hypersensitivity (to facial expressions, tone of voice, atmospheres …) and their analytical capacity. They are therefore very quickly aware (and very quickly hurt) by hypocrisy, lies, a tense atmosphere … 

Zebras will "read" in others as in a book, and do not hesitate to put their finger on a problem or a defect… that the other was trying to hide! They want to help by doing this, because they can't stand that "the thing is unseated", and therefore think they are doing good. They are often rejected because of their very perceptive judgment… a little too much.

Another psychological feature of zebras is their astonishing lack of diplomacy. In fact, they are deeply honest, but they lack a filter, which should prevent them from saying out loud what they think, or allow them to do it more delicately.

Zebras have many qualities that they can share with others,such as their deep attachment to justice, and their altruism, their intimate need to help others, to change the world… This is one of the great characteristics of zebras.

They also have a great sense of humor, a black humor, rather ironic,and a beautiful sensitivity to harmony: music, decoration, images, aesthetics …

All these topics will be further developed in my next articles. But this summary can already allow a zebra to recognize themselves, and their entourage to better understand them.

"We are not wired like this"

This is one of the ways I found to easily and quickly explain my "zebra" to the people I meet. "My brain is not wired the same" and … I add "a bit like autistic people, but otherwise" if I want to explain why I can no longer stand sensory stimuli that are too strong for me, when they do not bother others.

To be understood by others, to accept to be a gifted adult,to find one's place and to assert oneself, to be zebra and is a sacred challenge, which requires to understand oneself well, to accept oneself as one is.

And to decide to assert oneself and dare to say it,knowing that jealousy must be seen as a good way to sort out one's surroundings.

To learn to manage your weaknesses, your differences, and to organize your life around it.

And aim for the Moon, even more than the others.

You can of course give your opinion, tell your story and interact in the comments!

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My other blogs:

The Job Revolution

Professional development, changing employment, occupations of the future

Tomorrow The New World

Ecology, eco-anxiety and solastalgia, collapse and resilience

The Majesty of the Elephants

Knowledge of the animal world and those who protect it

The text of this article is the property of its author and may not be used without his consent and under certain conditions. 


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Sophie Barbarella

Writer and Public Speaker

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